It would be interesting to hear Friedrich Nietzsche’s take on Ruslan Provodnikov. Nietzsche, whose philosophy apotheosized the will, would surely provide interesting commentary on a fighter who exemplifies the creative and destructive potential of an iron volition. Provodnikov is not unique in his fixation on will—boxing is a sport predicated on willpower directed both without and within—but there is an almost mystic quality to the language he uses in reducing a violent ritual to a test between intangible forces. It is both frightening and captivating to hear Provodnikov, Beryozovo, Russia, speak of how his willpower allows him to overcome opponents and himself alike. And he means what he says: in the ring, when the talking stops, Provodnikov covets only attrition.
Yet willpower alone, if unfocused or misdirected, is not enough to reshape another human being. Chris Algieri, the unheralded challenger tasked with discouraging Provodnikov, is proof of that. Displaying a courage and will every bit as remarkable as his opponent’s, Algieri earned a hard fought split decision over Provodnikov at Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night.
Algieri, Huntington, New York, was a trendy upset pick going in. Picking unproven fighters to beat more popular ones has long been a strategy employed by those looking to appear wise. If the unproven fighter wins, these sage prognosticators pat themselves on the back while bragging about their penetrating intellects. If the favorite does what favorites are expected to do, well, what is more throwaway than a fight pick?
There were grounds for liking Algieri’s chances, however. Despite coming to boxing in his twenties, Algieri compiled a record of 20-0 as a professional kickboxer, winning two championships in the process. As a boxer, Algieri had nary a recognizable name on his record but was considered a technically skilled and well-conditioned fighter. Provodnikov, for all his fury, had been outboxed by fighters with similar qualities before, having dropped decisions to Mauricio Herrera and Timothy Bradley. Men who go to war with Provodnikov, willingly or otherwise, see their prospects for victory shrink with the ring, but if Algieri could box Provodnikov, use his physical advantages and footwork to keep Provodnikov at bay, the lanky fighter could escape the woodchipper.
That strategy required Algieri find his range, an exploration that Provodnikov forcefully denied him in the first round. Weaving his way inside, Provodnikov dropped Algieri with a left hook, and dropped him again with a right hand moments later. Algieri, 140, gathered his senses, and even caught Provodnikov with a crisp right hand, though by the end of the round his right eye was already a swelling, purpling mess. But Algieri rose from his stool for the second round and, for the remaining 33 minutes, gave Provodnikov fits.
Provodnikov, 139 3/4, bullied Algieri to the ropes throughout the fight, but even with his escape routes cut off, Algieri used his faster hands to strike with jabs, double left hooks, and sharp body punches. While not a big puncher, Algieri hit hard enough to slow Provodnikov’s approach, and in those moments where Provodnikov tried to worm inside without throwing, Algieri peppered him and slipped to safety.
Looking for an edge, Provodnikov targeted Algieri’s right eye and loaded up on left hooks. The force of those blows perhaps betrayed a growing frustration in “The Siberian Rocky”, who had Algieri all but finished in the first round, but was now struggling for answers. Had Provodnikov tried right uppercuts, a punch that was available whenever Algieri ducked under Provodnikov’s hook, he might have solved the Algieri riddle. With Algieri’s right glove held high to protect his damaged eye, Provodnikov might have targeted left hooks at Algieri’s exposed body. Rather than smother himself by squaring up on the inside, Provodnikov could have left himself space to punch. Instead, Provodnikov just cranked away with a left hooks to the head and right hands to the body, working like a lumberjack who refuses to chop through anything but the knots.
Which is not to say Provodnikov was outclassed. He landed plenty of punishing shots throughout the fight, dictated where the fight would take place, and shrugged off even Algieri’s best punches. The tireless, cleaner punching Algieri refused to buckle however, and made sure to answer Provodnikov with flurries of his own. Neither fighter was able to establish clear dominance, which meant scores could be expected to vary, and after twelve competitive rounds, this variance was reflected in the decision. Algieri was awarded the victory, with judges Don Trella and Tom Schrek scoring it 114-112 for Algieri, while Max DeLuca saw it 117-109 for Provodnikov.
Just as Provodnikov did against Timothy Bradley last year, Algieri, 20-0 (8), made the most of his moment on the big stage by stealing the show from his more glamorous opponent. Showing incredible grit and confidence, Algieri went twelve hard rounds with one of boxing’s great attritional forces and scratched out a win. Moreover, he did so in a manner that is unlikely to elicit any talk of a rematch from Provodnikov. Whether he can build on this victory remains to be seen, but with HBO hard up for fighters at 140 and 147 pounds, Algieri can expect the big stage to come calling once more.
As it will for Provodnikov, 23-3 (16), who in his post fight interview readily admitted that Algieri’s style was all wrong for him. Having lost his title, Provodnikov is no longer bound to the junior welterweight division, and can search out challenges at welterweight as well. If stationary, bloodthirsty opponents are more is speed, Provodnikov need look no further than the winner of the upcoming Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves fight for his next opponent. Nor should Provodnikov struggle as desperately to find opponents now that his limitations have again been brought to bear. Though one look at Algieri’s mangled face should be enough to remind any potential opponent what exploiting those limitations demands.